KITCHENER, Ont. - Twenty three players have come to this rookie camp in the hope of making an indelible impression on the Leafs' organization. They've come to this camp with the aspirations of eventually making it to the NHL one day. But even after losing to the rookies from Carolina 5-4 on Thursday night, three players will garner much of the publicity.
"I think a lot of attention will be directed at Brad Boyes, Luca Cereda and Christian Chartier," said Leafs Development Coach Paul Dennis.
While Boyes, Cereda and Chartier aren't expected to make the Leafs this season, much is expected of the trio, especially Boyes. It's no secret that the Leafs have struggled with their draft picks over the last 10 years. General Manager and Coach Pat Quinn admitted as much after this past season. He acknowledged that trades and the signing of free agents had to be made because of a lack of depth in the farm system.
However, the team is starting to feel a little better about its recent draft picks, starting with Boyes. Drafted in the first round in the 2000 NHL Entry draft, Boyes had a big season in junior hockey last year. He finished fifth in scoring in the OHL with 90 points playing with the Erie Otters and has progressed through the summer with his conditioning.
"I saw Brad play in Calgary for the World Juniors," said Dennis. "He is one of the smartest and has perhaps the best hockey sense in junior hockey. I think that will take him a long way in becoming a professional hockey player."
Leafs Director of Player Personnel Mike Penny agrees with Dennis' assessment. He also sees Boyes making the Leafs sooner rather than later.
"Brad ranks among the top scorers in the OHL," said Penny. "He's very competitive and smart, a good two-way player who moves the puck well. He has a big upside and a very bright hockey future."
If Boyes is the Leafs' No. 1 prospect, then Cereda could be No. 2. The 20-year-old from Logano, Switzerland was the team's top pick in the 1999 draft, but was sidelined all of last season with a heart condition. Cereda had to have surgery to correct a valve that wasn't functioning properly. As a result, his development has been a little slow, but Dennis still likes his talent.
"He's similar in terms of hockey sense to Boyes," he said. "He's a terrific playmaker who handles the puck exceptionally well."
The dark horse of this group could very well be Chartier. Not much was written when the Leafs signed him as a free-agent in the summer, but the 20-year-old has turned some heads. Chartier was originally drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 1999, but played in the WHL for five years.
He was the winner of this year's Bill Hunter Trophy signifying the WHL's top defencemen, which is voted upon by the league's coaches and general managers. The Leafs love his offensive potential and have been impressed with his game.
"He's a dominant skater and has tremendous wheels," said Dennis. "He has an above average shot and is incredibly strong for his age."
All three have the potential to become major contributors to the Leafs down the road and help strengthen the team in the future. It would definitely stop a decade of struggling drafts.